Is Canada actually a 'safe haven' for Sikh extremists?

Khalistan issue continues to make headlines . . .

The Canadian World Sikh Organization filed a C$2.5-million defamation lawsuit this week against the Government of India over comments some government officials made in the Indian media accusing the Canadian Government of allegedly supporting Canadian Sikhs to incite violence and militancy in the northern province of Punjab. The organization even suggested the Indian Government may be trying to influence the upcoming Canadian federal election. World Sikh Organization lawyer Balpreet Singh said of the case, "There are going to be a lot of [Canadian] Sikhs running for political office and it’s [the alleged defamation] to ensure the Sikh community is seen through a paradigm of extremism, of suspicion, essentially to marginalize Sikhs in Canada." There were 19 Canadian Sikh MPs elected in 2015, including four cabinet ministers, most of whom are seeking re-election.

Conservatives, Liberals, and New Democrats involved ahead of federal election . . .

The recent heightened focus on Sikh extremism in Canada can be traced back to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s diplomatic visit to India in 2018. Some Indian officials responded to a variety of Canadian ‘mishaps’ during the trip – including the Liberal government extending (then rescinding) a formal dinner invitation to Jaspal Atwal, who was convicted of trying to assassinate an Indian Cabinet Minister in 1986 – by dusting off a decades-old narrative suggesting Canada is a “safe haven” for radical Sikh extremists. Since the 2018 visit, all major Canadian political parties have been forced to deal with the issue of alleged Sikh extremism in Canada. This week, former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a speech at an event in Toronto condemning Canadians who promote Sikh separatism and predicted closer ties with the Indian Government if Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party wins the federal election this fall. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, meanwhile, has been strategically silent on the issue since a CBC interview touching on alleged Sikh extremism shortly after he was elected leader of the party in October 2017.

Perception versus reality?

Sikh activism in Canada today should not be seen as the Khalistani extremism of several decades ago. While Canada has witnessed past violence, the idea of a separate Sikh homeland carved out of India is for many Sikhs today a remnant of an earlier era. The Khalistani issue seems to have become largely exacerbated by some Canadian and Indian media coverage, and it now remains to be seen if it will have an impact on Canada-India trade and diplomatic relations as the two countries look to mend bridges.